I can’t remember what set me off on this train of thought but I was musing this morning on our tendency to veer from one extreme to the other. This happens in many walks of life but is somehow more obvious in Education.
The life cycle seems to happen like this.
- Research is done (may take any form & can be reputable & serious, or not)
- A commentator or journalist finds this and writes a piece, simplifying it for the audience.
- This snowballs as mainstream newspapers and magazines find it
- Some teachers find this and start to use it on a small scale
- Some heads/managers/governors happen across this. They like the look of it. They look for training on this
- ...Meanwhile…back at the ranch…someone has spotted a money-making opportunity & set up training courses
- Courses are booked, taken and teachers go back and cascade the knowledge
- Management look at this. It fits nicely into the “Results must improve. We need to do something. This is something. We’ll do this” scenario
- They implement the idea
- Some teachers love it but…
- Not all teachers, so not all teachers do it
- It is made compulsory
- The teachers who don’t like it do it now but mostly just pay lip service (VAK notes on lesson plans?)
- Someone goes back to the original research and discovers it is non-repeatable/flawed/only applicable in certain circumstances.
- They blog/write articles/set up rival training courses.
- The idea is completely discredited and abandoned.
And remember, at any given time schools may be anywhere in this process. The school I worked at until recently only discovered Learning Styles a couple of years ago while others have been through the whole process and come out the other side.
Somewhere in all this there are small nuggets of workable practice that get lost. Take for example Brain Gym/breaks (are they related) for example. It probably is useful to stop periodically when we are working hard on mental tasks and do a bit of exercise. But it became fetishised and discredited and we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Or learning styles. Still good to remind us that people do find it easier to learn in some ways than others and is a useful reminder to vary our approach but that is all. Pointless to label parts of a lesson with learning styles on a lesson plan. (I just wrote VAK in every section) Think of the hours that have been wasted either attempting to comply with rules about this and with discrediting it.
Much of the problem seems to be down to our tendency to oversimplify complicated research. Bow, I’m as keen on simplifying as the next person. I like things to be explained to me in words I can understand without a dictionary to hand. But we overdo this. We oversimplify to the point of uselessness. And we bounce around from one extreme to the other shouting “Group work”, “No Direct instruction” creating conflict and false dichotomies.
Teachers are busy, teachers are weary. We sometimes take the line of least resistance when faced with demands. I know there are leaders out there who don’t do this, but many do. External pressure from government and Ofsted will not help with this. It’s a good thing that teachers are setting up their own CPD and research hubs. Maybe this flip flopping with ideas will slow down. Some sneer at it, but education is complicated, it is nuanced and we need to examine ideas and implement them carefully with consideration.